Blue and White
Blue and White7 mins 12K 7 mins 12K
Black and White
©Marian Grace 2020
Minarva couldn’t justify her circumstances. She had always wanted to settle down, to marry. But the life she had hoped for was eluding her. She was just a hand-stretch away from her desired life. But it seemed everything was lost forever.
Minarva called her best friend Arpitha. She told her everything she felt. Arpitha fell silent.
“What should I tell you, Minu?” Arpitha asked at last.
“Just tell me if I could justify myself if I quit my job now?” Minarva said.
“What! You are out of your mind? This is the only way to make ends meet for you and your papa. You think about him, at least,” Arpitha said.
Minarva lived in Kannur, near the Railway station, with her papa. He was her only family. All their relatives were far away in the south of Kerala. Her papa was too weak to work. He had worked as a painter in the railways. But since he was diagnosed with lung cancer, he was bedridden. Although his cancer was cured completely, he still felt weak and preferred to stay near the house all the time. His favourite pastime was to paint the precincts of the house. But it earned him no cash.
Minarva was studious and it took her to the school of nursing. Being a nurse was hard work. It was spiritual in a sense, Minarva thought. It earned her satisfaction but not much money. The money was enough for the two of them to have a decent life. She was satisfied with her job and life until the COVID-19 virus broke in Kannur.
A couple of weeks earlier, Arpitha, her best friend had brought a proposal for Minarva.
It was the proposal for marriage. The man was a lab assistant in one of the prominent hospitals in Kannur. His name was Rakesh.
Minarva had met him in the Coffee House in Thana. She had liked the guy, given the green signal to Arpitha to go ahead with the proposal. For a formal meeting with Minarva’s father, Rakesh and his family were to visit their home only two weeks before.
“The Coronavirus situation is no one’s fault, Minu. I will talk to Rakesh and his family. His sister is a friend of mine. She will understand. I will ask them to reschedule their visit,” Arpitha said.
“Reschedule? Hmm… he didn’t even call me once after that day,” Minarva said.
It was just two days before their visit the whole nation was locked down, allowing no vehicles, no family visits, and no marriage ceremonies.
“Oh, I didn’t know you two were in such a strong relationship,” Apritha scoffed.
“You don’t get my point, Arpitha. At least, the groom’s side should inform us, na? Where are their manners?” Minarva complained.
“Well, no one knows when the lockdown would be over… and… and… they might even be considering the lack of possibility of conducting marriage any time soon,” Arpitha said.
“I thought so. And look at my situation now… I have to go to work amidst all this chaos. There’d be patients with the virus in the hospital. I am very scared. What if I get infected? What if I die without getting married!” Minarva shivered at the thought.
“I get it, Minu. I don’t think it’s a good idea to quit now. Keep at it. I will pray for you,” Arpitha said.
“Arpitha, I have always felt that your prayers have great power. Please, that’s all I can ask for now. Please pray for me,” Minarva said and hung up.
Minarva went outside her house and checked on her father. He was still busy with a random paint job outside the house, on a small fence.
“Why don’t you give yourself a break and get a real job. From what I can see, you can still do a good paint job,” Minarva said.
“Painting is an art. I am practising it to bring back my perfection. I had spent quite a long time in bed, during my cancer days, daughter, due to which I lost my fine touch,” the old man said.
“Why do you keep painting the fences around your own house? Why don’t you do it on other people’s fences? That way they’d even pay you a few bucks,” MInarva scoffed.
“Mastery of any work is capturing its details. By working my own property, I could practise my art without causing anyone damage,” the old man said.
The evening approached fast. Minarva wanted to take a nap at noon. She couldn’t because she was stressed out, thinking about the dangers that lurked in the hospital where she worked. The virus was invisible to the naked eye. But it was even more dangerous than the worst venomous creatures.
In a few hours, she was about to go out into the open, for her night shift. Her heart panicked. She got ready and bade goodbye to her father. The old man looked concerned.
“Daughter, focus on the details. That will help fight your fears. Trust me, I know how it feels to face death,” the old man said.
Minarva paused a second and took the old man’s words into her heart. She felt sorry for him. She knew that she wouldn't be able to come back tomorrow morning as the usual night shift was. She would have to stay in the hospital for the next few days, working nonstop, the nursing superintendent had told her over the phone.
Even after finishing her work, she would be required to spend almost twenty days in quarantine, for safety’s sake.
“Bye, Papa,” she said. A teardrop escaped her calm veneer. The old man blinked away his tears hard and she noticed it.
At the hospital, the situation was worse than she thought. The streets near the hospital were deserted. Her colleagues were in safety gears, covered from head to toe, in blue and white. Only their eyes showed. It looked similar to a doomsday movie she watched during her college days.
Before long, the first emergency patient arrived. The patient was an old man. His temperature was high and he had all the symptoms of the virus infection.
The superintendent led Minarva and her colleagues to the changing rooms. These were the rooms which they called their green rooms, where they used to make their TikTok videos during their spare time. Once donned in the safety gears, Minarva felt like an astronaut. She walked cautiously to the COVID-19 Isolation room. This was it! She thought about her life before the virus. She thought about all her favourite moments. She was scared because she knew that on the other side of the door to that isolation room, death awaited them in its cold real form.
The patient was lying on a bed. The old man reminded Minarva of her father. When she went closer, the old man smiled at her.
“Focus on the details,” she remembered her father’s words. She helped the man sit up and drink some water. She had help from another colleague. The two of them stayed with the man throughout the night. The old man was in delirium and spoke about his family and life.
Minarva knew all of a sudden, what her father had meant. She had started seeing a whole life story unveiled before her. The old man said that he had returned recently from the Gulf. He had worked there for many years and built a house for his family, educated his children and supported some of his relatives in need.
“The time had come…,” he kept mumbling.
Minarva saw no death inside that room. She saw a man fight an invisible enemy and lose hope.
She went closer and held the man’s palm in her gloved hand. The old man opened his eyes wide and looked at the person in front of him, all covered in blue and protective suits.
“We will get through,” Minarva told him, smiling.
She wasn’t certain if the old man had seen her smile through the mask she was wearing.
Cold and dark days were yet to come. Some days were hope, some others were hopeless. But Minarva held on. She knew what she had missed earlier when she was afraid. She was not looking into details. The details had saved her from fear, one of which was the shining tears that streamed down the old man’s face when he spoke about his family. For him, his worst enemy wasn’t the virus. It was the hopelessness of being a burden to his family, just like Minarva’s fears of not seeing her father again and not getting the chance to get married to that young man named Rakesh.
All Minarva needed to do was to bring the light of hope into the days of darkness. And she did. And the days passed with more patients coming in and more hope filling the isolation rooms.